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What to Do When Sod Turns Brown?

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A homeowner has two options when establishing a grassy lawn – to plant seed or lay sod. Although more expensive than seed, sod provides instant gratification by covering bare soil with thick grass. However, improper cultural practices, failure to provide good roots-to-soil contact and poor growing conditions weaken the sod, causing it to turn completely brown or feature brown patches or spots. Treat browning sod immediately to control the problem and help it regain natural color and vigor.

Limit Foot Traffic

Excessive foot traffic and heavy equipment compact the soil, preventing moisture and oxygen from reaching the roots of the sod and causing it to turn brown. Use a core aerator to remove plugs of soil and allow water and oxygen to reach the roots of the sod. Divert the traffic to another part of your lawn or install a stone or gravel walkway to lead people from one point to another without walking over the grass.

Improve Cultural Practices

Sod also turns brown due to excess water or fertilizer. Feeding the sod excessive nitrogen causes it to turn brown and burn. The problem becomes apparent soon after a fertilizer application. Douse the brown spot with water to dilute accumulated nitrogen reserves. Remove brown patches of sod that fail to regain natural color and replace them with fresh patches. Reduce watering if you notice a pool of water long after you irrigated your sod. Roots planted in poorly draining or heavy clay soils fail to absorb oxygen, thus turning brown. Dig out and roll the patch of sod from the soil carefully and install drainage pipes or fill low spots with quality topsoil before laying the sod again.

Treat and Prevent Diseases

Diseases such as brown patch cause sod to turn brown and die in extreme cases. Improper cultural practices increase susceptibility to the disease that infects sod when temperatures remain consistent between 80 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Grass that remains wet for long periods of time during warm weather has a greater chance of contracting the disease. Symptoms include a doughnut-shaped spot on the sod with green grass inside. Treat the disease with a registered fungicide applied every 10 days to two weeks until symptoms disappear and the grass regains its natural color and texture. Maintain good cultural practices to limit chances of disease.


Frequent dog urination on sod causes the spot to turn yellow and eventually brown. Dog urine contains a high amount of nitrogen that causes grass burn. Douse the area with water immediately to dilute the effect of urine and train your dog to urinate elsewhere. Improper rolling immediately after laying sod prevents direct contact between the roots and soil, causing it to turn brown. Run a roller half filled with water over the sod to remove air pockets and press the roots closer to the soil.

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